As the calendar flips its way into June, most of us are beginning to ease into the rhythms of summer. Although, to be honest, there’s not a huge amount of my own weekly schedule that changes in the summer—after all, we still have weekly worship, pastoral care needs continue, and even many of our faith formation experiences (like the Wednesday morning open-to-everyone bible study conversation we call C.A.F.E. Storrs) continue on—nevertheless somehow these summer months feel a bit different even for me.
For any number of reasons, it’s an observable fact that worship attendance in most churches, including our own, slips a bit during the summer period. Of course, part of that’s due to travel; although if we had a stronger culture concerning worship attendance than we currently do, as you traveled somewhere you’d participate in worship with a congregation there, and as people visited this region, they’d join with us here. Alas… Travel or no travel, some people simply choose to do other things.
Earlier this year, a colleague of mine who was ending her time as a pastor in one congregation and beginning it with a different congregation a few weeks later offered a fascinating reflection on what she and her family experienced on one of those Sundays “off” in between the two pastoral calls. As you’ll see, they decided to do Sunday brunch at a restaurant—one of the ‘alternatives to church’ on Sunday mornings that’s incredibly popular among certain segments of the population. She wrote:
Today we decided to join the “Nones” [the growing segment of the population who simply declare their religious affiliation as “none”—not atheist or agnostic, but simply “none”] for Sunday Brunch to see what we’re missing. It was fascinating, and a lesson in some things we could do better as churches, and some things we offer alternatives to. Here are my observations about how brunch was different:
This is where the white, upper middle class families are. I expected to see adults. I was shocked at how many kids were there.
Being served and lingering over table offered parents and other adults lots of time to interact in meaningful ways. I did not see kids ignored; they were clearly integrated into the conversation and their contributions valued.
You get to choose your company. While anyone who can pay is welcome, there is no expectation that you sit with or talk to others.
Only wealthy(ish) people can do it. Brunch for 2 adults and a kid was, with tip, $53. And this was not an “expensive” restaurant. A $53 per week pledge to a church per family would go a long way to stabilizing most churches.
You get served. There are no worries. You pay for people to cook and clean so you can enjoy each other. There is no expectation that you will do anything else besides tip well.
The food hits all your senses. It’s beautiful, tasty, fragrant, nicely textured. (Ok, maybe it doesn’t make noise.) The experience is designed to hit the pleasure spots.
There are lines out the door, even on a cold day. People love this experience so much, they are willing to wait in the cold and pay a lot for it.
So, as my colleague observed, there are things perhaps we could do better as churches—multi-sensory experiences, meaningful interactions, the integration of kids. And there are a lot of ways in which church is, in fact, different than going to Sunday brunch—and that’s a good thing:
- You don’t quite get to choose your company at church, and that’s a good thing—after all, you don’t get to choose whether or not God loves you, either (and here’s a hint… God does!)
- Church (hopefully) isn’t just for the “wealthy(ish)”. That doesn’t mean we can’t use the $53 some family might have spent on brunch that morning—and, in fact, probably use it in ways that won’t be over by dinnertime—but no one has to be able to foot that sort of bill in order to be a part of church.
- Church isn’t a place without expectations—after all, true, courageous, and faithful discipleship to Christ is the most demanding thing any of us will ever try to do.
I don’t know how you’ll choose to spend your Sunday mornings this month or through the rest of the summer. I know I’ll be in church, whether here or somewhere else while on vacation, because in the long-run (and even in the short), a bit of time in worship is far better for my heart than another dollop of hollandaise.
How’s that for some food for thought?
Yours in the journey,